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Fans at Bruce Springsteen's Headlining Show (2009)
Danny Clinch has been photographing the annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival since it began in 2002. With the 15th installment kicking off June 9, he looked back on his favorite memories from the farm with EW. From helping convince Radiohead to make the trip to Manchester, Tenn. to witnessing the rise of bands like the Black Keys and My Morning Jacket and introducing Bruce Springsteen to Phish, check them out here.
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James Brown (2003)
"My first portrait area was a couple of slats put together with some tarp over the top of it," Clinch remembers with a laugh. "[In 2003] James Brown rolled up on a golf cart and he was like, 'Whose idea was this? I'm melting out here!' The shot I got of him is my favorite shot of him. He's all done up and sitting there, and it's right before he's sweating his ass off — he looks down at his watch like, 'What time is it? Because I'm out of here in two minutes!'"
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Bonnaroo as a Launchpad
"In the earlier years of Bonnaroo, you have bands come through, like the Black Keys, My Morning Jacket (pictured above with Kirk Hammet of Metallica), Kings of Leon — those three bands were not well-known when they came. So you could see [them] on the first slot Sunday morning when everyone else was sleeping, with the die-hard fans. And then fast-forward a few years and they're all headlining. It makes you not want to miss some of the newer bands now."
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My Morning Jacket (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2013, 2015)
Clinch feels a strong tether between his career, the festival, and certain acts that have played many times through the years. "When you think about the relationships that I have with certain bands from over the years, it's exciting because me and those bands — like My Morning Jacket — we've come up together," he says. "You have to give it up with the credibility of whoever is booking these bands. They've been doing their homework and they have some pretty good taste."
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The Black Keys (2004, 2007, 2011)
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney now enjoy headlining slots at festivals, but Clinch fondly remembers the early days of the Black Keys. "I have film of [them] driving up in their own van and Dan Auerbach stringing his own guitar backstage at Bonnaroo all the way up to them closing out or headlining Bonnaroo in front of 70,000 people," he says. "To me, that's like, how could this festival not have an effect on contemporary music?"
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Radiohead's Celebrations After They Headlined (2006)
Radiohead's headlining set in 2006 is famous in Bonnaroo history as the moment that the formerly jam-band-centric event became a world class festival stage — and Clinch played a major role in getting Thom Yorke & Co. to the farm. "At a certain point, [organizers] were trying to get Radiohead to play the festival and they weren't having much success," he recalls. "I was spending some time with the band and I told them, 'This is a really great festival. It's the closest to the European festivals that you'll find [in the U.S.]. You guys would really enjoy this.' Shortly after they made the decision to come out and do Bonnaroo."
He continues, "I wanted the band to come back to the portrait area during the day and they said that they didn't want to—they wanted to just concentrate on putting on a good show. But afterward, we were hanging out, having a beer, and Thom said, 'Danny, you still got your portrait spot open?' Of course I didn't but was like, 'Uhh yeah, I can pull it together, no problem.' I ran over and grabbed my assistant and we threw up a light and I made that portrait."
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Pearl Jam (2008, 2016)
Clinch's relationship with Pearl Jam is special to the photographer. "I love Pearl Jam," he says simply. "I have a handful of people and bands that I can say I've become friends with over the years and they're one of them. For me, It's like, what's a better celebration than going to Bonnaroo and hanging out with your friends who are headlining?"
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Bruce Springsteen (2009)
"I really didn't know what to expect," Clinch says of when he first became involved in the festival. "[But] I just haven't really been to anything like it. They're incredible and incredible in their creativity. When I got there, I was like, 'Wow. This is my kind of party!"
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Bruce Springsteen Rehearsing With Phish's Trey Anastasio Backstage (2009)
Springsteen joined Phish onstage during their set to close out the 2009 iteration of the event — and Clinch helped make that moment happen. "Trey is a huge Springsteen fan," he says. "He was like, 'Oh my god, Danny, Springsteen's playing! How cool would it be to jam with him?' So I found out that even though Bruce had played on Friday night he was going to hang out [for the weekend.] So I was on the side of the stage watching Citizen Cope with Bruce Springsteen and I asked him if he had seen Phish. 'Those boys can play anything,' I said. 'They've got great chops.' A short time later Bruce's guy had contacted Phish's tour manager and expressed interest in sitting in with the band."
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Bonnaroo's Fashion Evolution
Having shot the past 14 Bonnaroos, Clinch has perhaps the best record of the event and crowd's evolution. What's changed the most? The fashion. "When it started, it was certainly more alternative rock n' roll," he says, "and now there's more hip-hop and electronic music — and the fashion of those styles all reflect in the people. You know, whether you have Wiz Khalifa coming back or you have Skrillex, or someone like Grace Potter (pictured above with her band the Nocturnals), you see that fashion is a big part of it."
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"I've gotten to play harmonica a couple of times with the bands," Clinch says of why he loves his annual pilgrimage to Manchester, Tenn. "I played with that ALO band with Jack Johnson the year when he filled in for Mumford & Sons — that was super fun. I also played with Mumford & Sons [in 2015] when they invited everybody out — Mumford & Sons, Jim James, Dawes was up there. Jamming with those guys was so incredible. It becomes, really, about hanging out with your friends."